This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Salvador Luria" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (April 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
Salvador Luria
Luria c. 1969
Salvatore Luria

August 13, 1912 (1912-08-13)
DiedFebruary 6, 1991(1991-02-06) (aged 78)
American (since 1950)
Alma materUniversity of Turin
(m. 1945)
AwardsJohn Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1942)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1969)
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1969)
Scientific career
FieldsMolecular biology
InstitutionsColumbia University
Indiana University
University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral studentsJames D. Watson
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Salvador Edward Luria (born Salvatore Luria; August 13, 1912 – February 6, 1991) was an Italian microbiologist, later a naturalized U.S. citizen. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969, with Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, for their discoveries on the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses. Salvador Luria also showed that bacterial resistance to viruses (phages) is genetically inherited.


Early life

Luria was born Salvatore Luria in Turin, Italy to an influential Italian Sephardi Jewish family. His parents were Davide and Ester (Sacerdote) Luria.[1] He attended the medical school at the University of Turin studying with Giuseppe Levi. There, he met two other future Nobel laureates: Rita Levi-Montalcini and Renato Dulbecco. He graduated from the University of Turin in 1935 and never got a master's degree or a PhD as they were not contemplated by the Italian high educational system (which, on the other hand, was very selective). From 1936 to 1937, Luria served his required time in the Italian army as a medical officer. He then took classes in radiology at the University of Rome. Here, he was introduced to Max Delbrück's theories on the gene as a molecule and began to formulate methods for testing genetic theory with the bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria.

In 1938, he received a fellowship to study in the United States, where he intended to work with Delbrück. Soon after Luria received the award, Benito Mussolini's fascist regime banned Jews from academic research fellowships. Without funding sources for work in the U.S. or Italy, Luria left his home country for Paris, France in 1938. As the Nazi German armies invaded France in 1940, Luria fled on bicycle to Marseille where he received an immigration visa to the United States.

Phage research

Salvador Luria with Esther Lederberg at the 1953 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium. In the background are Aaron Novick, Bruce Stocker, Haig Papazian and Geraldine Lindegren.

Luria arrived in New York City on September 12, 1940, and soon changed his first and middle names. With the help of physicist Enrico Fermi, whom he knew from his time at the University of Rome, Luria received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at Columbia University. He soon met Delbrück and Hershey, and they collaborated on experiments at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and in Delbrück's lab at Vanderbilt University.[2]

His famous experiment with Delbrück in 1943,[3][4] known as the Luria–Delbrück experiment, demonstrated statistically that inheritance in bacteria must follow Darwinian rather than Lamarckian principles and that mutant bacteria occurring randomly can still bestow viral resistance without the virus being present. The idea that natural selection affects bacteria has profound consequences, for example, it explains how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance.

Luria and Latarjet in 1947 published a quantitative analysis on the effect of ultraviolet irradiation on bacteriophage multiplication during intracellular growth.[5] During the early course of infection they found an increase in bacteriophage resistance to ultraviolet irradiation and then later a decrease. At the time this pattern, known as the Luria-Laterjet effect, was published little was known about the central role of DNA in biology. Later work established that multiple specific DNA repair pathways, encoded by the infecting bacteriophage, contribute to the increase in UV resistance early in infection.[6]

From 1943 to 1950, he worked at Indiana University. His first graduate student was James D. Watson, who went on to discover the structure of DNA with Francis Crick. In January 1947, Luria became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

In 1950, Luria moved to the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign. In the early 1950s, Luria and Giuseppe Bertani discovered the phenomenon of host-controlled restriction and modification of a bacterial virus: a culture of E. coli can significantly reduce the production of phages grown in other strains; however, once the phage become established in that strain, they also become restricted in their ability to grow in other strains.[7][8] It was later discovered by other researchers that bacteria produce enzymes that cut viral DNA at particular sequences but not the bacteria's own DNA, which is protected by methylation. These enzymes became known as restriction enzymes and developed into one of the main molecular tools in molecular biology.[9]

Luria won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969, with Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, for their discoveries on the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.[10]

Later work

In 1959, he became chair of Microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, he switched his research focus from phages to cell membranes and bacteriocins.[citation needed] While on sabbatical in 1963 to study at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, he found that bacteriocins impair the function of cell membranes. Returning to MIT, his lab discovered that bacteriocins achieve this impairment by forming holes in the cell membrane, allowing ions to flow through and destroy the electrochemical gradient of cells. In 1972, he became chair of The Center for Cancer Research at MIT. The department he established included future Nobel Prize winners David Baltimore, Susumu Tonegawa, Phillip Allen Sharp and H. Robert Horvitz.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Luria received a number of awards and recognitions. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959.[11] He was named a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1960.[12] In 1964, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[13] From 1968 to 1969, he served as president of the American Society for Microbiology. In 1969, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University together with Max Delbrück, co-winner with Luria of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969. In the U.S. he won the 1974 National Book Award in Science for his popular science book Life: the Unfinished Experiment[14] and received the National Medal of Science in 1991.[15]

Political activism

Throughout his career, Luria was an outspoken political advocate.[16][17] He joined with Linus Pauling in 1957 to protest against nuclear weapon testing. Luria was an opponent of the Vietnam War and a supporter of organized labor. In the 1970s, he was involved in debates over genetic engineering, advocating a compromise position of moderate oversight and regulation rather than the extremes of a complete ban or full scientific freedom. Due to his political involvement, he was blacklisted from receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health for a short time in 1969.

He was a friend of the noted linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, and communicated with the Jewish American writer Elie Wiesel through a letter, in which he criticized Israel's involvement in the Guatemalan genocide and satirically Wiesel's silence on any issue concerning Israel's alleged terrorist activities worldwide. Chomsky would later describe it as such: "In the mid-1980s, Salvador Luria, a friend of mine who is a Nobel laureate in biology and politically active, knew about this [i.e., the genocide]. It wasn't a big secret. He asked me to collect articles from the Hebrew press which described Israel's participation in genocidal attacks in Guatemala – not just participation, it's a leadership role – because he wanted to send it to Elie Wiesel with a polite letter saying: as a fellow Nobel laureate, I would like to bring this to your attention. Could you use your influence – he didn't ask him to say anything, that's too much, but privately could you communicate to the people you know well at a high level in Israel and say it's not nice to take part in genocide. He never got a response."[18]


Luria died in Lexington, Massachusetts of a heart attack on 6 February, 1991 at the age of 78.

See also


  1. ^ "FREE Essay on The Life of Salvador Luria". Archived from the original on 2013-10-15.
  2. ^ Witkin, Evelyn M. (October 2002). "Chances and Choices: Cold Spring Harbor 1944–1955". Annual Review of Microbiology. 56 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1146/annurev.micro.56.012302.161130. ISSN 0066-4227. PMID 12142497. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  3. ^ Luria SE, Delbrück M. Mutations of bacteria from virus sensitivity to virus resistance. Genetics. 1943 Nov;28(6):491-511. doi:10.1093/genetics/28.6.491. PMID 17247100; PMC 1209226
  4. ^ Luria SE "Mutations of bacteria and bacteriophage" in Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology (2007) Edited by John Cairns, Gunther S. Stent, and James D. Watson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology, Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York, pgs. 173-179. ISBN 978-0-87969-800-3
  5. ^ Luria SE, Latarjet R. Ultraviolet Irradiation of Bacteriophage During Intracellular Growth. J Bacteriol. 1947 Feb;53(2):149-63. doi: 10.1128/jb.53.2.149-163.1947. PMID: 16561258; PMCID: PMC518289
  6. ^ Hyman P. The genetics of the Luria-Latarjet effect in bacteriophage T4: evidence for the involvement of multiple DNA repair pathways. Genet Res. 1993 Aug;62(1):1-9. doi: 10.1017/s0016672300031499. PMID: 8405988
  7. ^ Luria SE, Human ML (Oct 1952). "A nonhereditary, host-induced variation of bacterial viruses". Journal of Bacteriology. 64 (4): 557–69. doi:10.1128/JB.64.4.557-569.1952. PMC 169391. PMID 12999684.
  8. ^ Bertani G, Weigle JJ (Feb 1953). "Host controlled variation in bacterial viruses". Journal of Bacteriology. 65 (2): 113–21. doi:10.1128/JB.65.2.113-121.1953. PMC 169650. PMID 13034700.
  9. ^ Roberts RJ (April 2005). "How restriction enzymes became the workhorses of molecular biology". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 102 (17): 5905–8. Bibcode:2005PNAS..102.5905R. doi:10.1073/pnas.0500923102. PMC 1087929. PMID 15840723.
  10. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1969". Nobel Foundation.
  11. ^ "Salvador Edward Luria". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-10-11.
  12. ^ "S. E. Luria". Retrieved 2022-10-11.
  13. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2022-10-11.
  14. ^ "National Book Awards – 1974". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  15. ^ "Salvador E. Luria". The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details. National Science Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  16. ^ Luria SE. A Slot Machine, a Broken Test Tube. An Autobiography. Chapter 9. “In the political arena” pgs. 166-207, Harper and Row, New York, 1984. Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Series
  17. ^ Selya, Rena (2022). Salvador Luria. An Immigrant Biologist in Cold War America. The MIT Press. ISBN 9780262046466.
  18. ^ "The World of Our Grandchildren: Noam Chomsky discusses ISIS, Israel, climate change, and the kind of world future generations may inherit | Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian".